Chapter 2. Friday

Jordan yawned and stretched idly. Ever since SEAL/CRT training, an 0600 wakeup seemed like sheer luxury. She slipped out for a long run near the waterfront, picking up a newspaper from the motel office on the way back. “Hmmm. Looks as though this showing at 1845 hours should be just perfect. We could grab a quick dinner first.” She called Jack at home and they agreed he would pick her up at the motel after work.

With that out of the way, she did her calisthenics on the motel room floor and enjoyed a leisurely shower followed by breakfast at a nearby cafe. At 0900 she called Lt. Kathy Blondell to confirm their lunch date. Kathy, physician for the training program, was the only one who knew that Jordan was in town early to see the master chief.

Pulling out her laptop, Jordan used the next few hours to catch up with email and letters to friends. Shortly before 1130, she headed toward a little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant well off base. Given the fraternization charges that had been leveled at them, she and Lt. Blondell were hoping that their lunch rendezvous would go unobserved by the Navy. She found a good table and kept her eyes open for the doctor’s arrival. “Kathy! Over here!”

Kathy grinned. “Jordan! Good to see you!” They shared a quick hug before she sat down. Giving their orders to the waitress, they began a long-awaited catch-up on each other’s activities.

“So how was your trip back home, Jordan?”

Jordan rolled her eyes. “The last couple of weeks in Washington were almost as tough as the training. My family and friends think I’m crazy; my boyfriend and I split up. And all I could think of was getting back here. After the CRT course and our little adventure in Libya, my old world seems so quiet and boring.” She grinned. “I’ve become an adrenalin addict.”

“You split up with Royce?” Kathy was surprised. “He sounded like a sweet guy.”

“Oh, he is sweet.” Jordan shook her head. “I’m going to miss him. We’ve both seen this coming for a while, but it was still hard to let go. He wants — and deserves — someone who can be there for him, not off in the middle of nowhere doing god knows what.” She paused. “Frankly, Kathy, I’m relieved that he felt that way, because it made it easier to tell him that I was no longer in love with him. He was loving and supportive, yes, but only as long as I was willing to plan my life around his. I finally realized we need to go our separate ways.”

“Hmmm. Royce is out of the picture. So did you get anywhere with Master Chief Urgayle last night?” Kathy asked with a grin.

Jordan sputtered on her iced tea. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She glared at her friend. “I told you I was asking him for advice, not a date.”

“Hey, back off, girl. I was teasing.” Kathy bit her tongue to keep from laughing. “But you sure got your knickers in a twist over such an innocent comment.”

Jordan relented. “You’re right, of course. I should keep that man at a safe distance, but there’s something about him that’s hard to resist.” She had to come clean with her friend. “Since you asked… we’re going to a movie tonight.” She grinned sheepishly.

“Ahah! I knew it,” Kathy chortled. “You’re an alpha female and you’re looking for the alpha male.” She snorted. “And no one is more fucking alpha than the master chief.” She grinned as Jordan made a face in her direction. “You know I’m right.”

“Alpha he is,” Jordan acknowledged. “And we had a good talk last night. He was surprisingly helpful. But I’m still being cautious, Kathy. Only five weeks ago he was beating the shit out of me. You remember what I looked like after that session. I know that was in the line of duty. Any idea whether he makes a habit of that in his off hours?”

Kathy responded to the seriousness of the question. “I’ve only been here two years, but I’ve never heard any complaints about him, inside or outside of class. Clean record, no complaints of inappropriate or abusive behavior. General rap is that he’s tough but fair.” She paused. “Some of the trainers have a mean streak. I don’t get that impression about Urgayle. If anything, he’s too conscientious, too tough on himself. He’s all about duty.”

She thought a moment and looked at Jordan. “But keep your eyes open, girl. Some instructors are better than others at separating their jobs from their private lives. Don’t forget what he’s capable of.”

Jordan nodded. “Pretty much what I’ve been thinking. Is he seeing anyone?”

“Not that I know of. Certainly no one on base. He keeps to himself. They say it’s because he wants his trainer chief persona to be considered omnipotent, unapproachable. Me, I think he’s kinda lonely.”

“Hard to tell. He seems pretty self-sufficient.” Jordan gave her friend a warm smile. “Thanks, Kathy. I’ll keep you posted.”

“You’d better, Jordan!” Kathy grinned. “I’m going to expect regular updates.”

Lunch arrived and the conversation turned to the latest news and rumors from the base. When Kathy’s lunch hour was over, they parted reluctantly.

The knock came on Jordan’s motel room door just as she was checking her hair and applying a bit of lipstick. A quick scan confirmed that her French-cut T-shirt and jeans were in order. She grabbed a light jacket and met Jack at the door.

He nodded his head toward the black 4Runner parked next to her rental car. “Ready for round two?”

She grinned. “Hooyah, Master Chief. I’m starved.”

They headed for Jack’s favorite pizza joint. “It’s crowded and noisy, but they have the best pizza,” he assured her. Crowded was okay with Jordan. She still felt awkward around Jack, and the noise level would keep the conversation light.

Sure enough, the place was full of people laughing and talking, and Jordan felt right at home. It reminded her of the old Shakey’s in her home town, where her parents could take the whole family out for dinner and still stay within their budget. After they placed their order, she shared that bit of family history with Jack, telling him what it was like to grow up with three older brothers.

“I followed them everywhere. They taught me to climb trees, ride horses, fight with wooden swords, catch snakes. I was welcome as long as I didn’t slow them down.” She laughed. “I guess you have my brothers to blame for me ending up in your class.” Jordan turned to her enigmatic date. “How about you, Jack? Brothers or sisters?”

“One younger sister. She lives in Oregon, so I don’t see her as often as I’d like.”

Just then the pizza arrived. They collected family backgrounds as they munched their way through the pepperoni, mushrooms and olives, and the easy conversation continued as they drove to the movie.

Hidalgo proved to be as good as they’d hoped. Jack forgot himself enough to laugh with the crowd. When Frank’s family jewels were threatened, Jordan placed her hand on Jack’s and grinned impishly up at him. He turned his hand over to clasp hers, palm to palm. “Good thing those Arabs didn’t have you workin’ for ’em,” he whispered. Their hands remained together, fingers chatting idly, for the rest of the film.

After the movie, they walked slowly back to Jack’s vehicle, enthusiastically recounting their favorite scenes. “Motel or my place?” Jack asked. “No chicken tonight but I can probably find some pretzels if you’re hungry.”

With only a few more days in town, Jordan decided to seize the moment. “All I have at the motel is some chewing gum I found stuck to the bedpost,” she grinned. “Pretzels beat that hands down.”

They were both grateful to have the movie to talk about. It kept the conversation flowing comfortably through the drive back to Jack’s house. After he parked the car he sat for a moment, gathering resolve, and turned to her as though he had something to ask. Then he changed his mind and dropped it. He ushered Jordan into the house, leaving her wondering what was on his mind.

“Something to drink?” he asked as he headed slowly into the kitchen. “There’s beer, wine, sodas, scotch.”

Jordan noticed his limp getting worse as the day grew later. “A beer sounds good,” she replied. She stole a look at his CD collection. “Mind if I put on some music?”

Jack poked his head around the corner into the living room. “Go ahead, pick out something quiet.”

She browsed the titles. “Auntie Christ. What’s this?” she asked. And what was it doing in with classical and opera, she wondered.

“I said ‘quiet.'” He appeared behind her shoulder. “That’s a punk rock band. Good stuff but I think I’d prefer something a little less exciting right now.” He handed her a bottle of beer, setting a glass of scotch and a bag of pretzels on the coffee table.

She slipped Miles Davis’ “Tutu” into the player before following him to their seat. He was already settling on the left end of the couch, propping his injured leg on some pillows that were piled on the end of the coffee table. He patted the couch to his right, smiling up at her. Rare as they were, she thought, Jack’s smiles were worth waiting for. They should be classified as weapons. Feeling weak in the knees, she wondered if she should leave while she still could. But instead she sat on the couch next to him, leaving four careful inches of separation.

The soft strains of Miles’ muted trumpet sidled through the room. “‘Tutu’, eh?” he asked. “Good choice.”

“You have quite a collection of music,” she replied. “A lot of artists I’ve never heard of. I could spend all day exploring.” She was thinking of other things about him she would like to explore, but didn’t know quite how to make the opening.

Jack was thinking the same thing about Jordan. He prided himself on reading people well, but his accuracy about her had been appalling. He had assumed even before he met her that she was a woman with a political mission, more interested in the limelight than the real work of the CRT. Tonight’s movie had reminded him how wrong he’d been.

“You know that guy Frank in the movie? He reminded me of you,” Jack said, turning to face her.

Jordan was surprised. She’d actually been thinking he looked a bit like Jack. “In what way?”

“Well, he was the odd man out in the group. All the other competitors had their egos all wrapped up in their Arab heritage and their pure-blooded horses and couldn’t conceive that a cowboy on a mongrel mustang could compete on an even footing. Hell, they were offended that he was in their presence.” He smiled. “Sound familiar?”

“Cortez,” she answered with a grin. “Slovnik.” And Urgayle, she added silently.

Jack nodded. “He hadn’t come to make a statement about mustangs or Americans or anything. He wasn’t looking to be treated special. He just wanted a chance to race.” He paused. “After all this time I think I’m finally starting to understand where you’ve been coming from.” He grinned sheepishly. “Just don’t tell anyone it took a movie to get the point through my thick skull.”

“Not a word, Jack.” Smiling, she reached out her hand to him. “I hadn’t thought about the movie that way, but I see what you mean. I liked that Frank character. He was as tough as he needed to be, but not mean. I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Jack took her hand in his left. He started to stretch his right hand toward her shoulder, then paused. Her reaction to his advances the night before still bothered him. He looked at her, puzzled. “Last night, when I … you pulled away when I moved toward you.”

Jordan wished she could deny it, but she knew he would see right through her. After a long hesitation, she replied slowly. “Yes. But it wasn’t because I didn’t want you to touch me. It was the way you cupped my chin in your hand.” She held out her hand, mimicking his gesture, then turned and met his eyes. “The last time you made a move like that, you were steadying me for a blow that slammed me into a tree.” She paused, unsure what his reaction would be. “When the memory came up, I lost my balance for a few moments.”

Shaking his head, Jack let out a sigh. “Damn.” He withdrew his right hand, keeping his left in soft contact. “Do you want me to back off?”

Jordan studied him quietly. Despite their rough history, she felt no threat from him tonight. “No,” she replied. “I’d like you to hold me.” Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he drew her toward him. She snugged in tight, hip to hip, took a deep breath, and laid her head on his shoulder, her right hand on his chest. She enjoyed the feel of his solid body next to hers.

They sat quietly together for a few minutes. When Jack spoke again his voice was low and gruff. “I did what I had to do, Jordan. I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t easy to hit you, watch you stagger and bleed.”

She appreciated how hard it was for him to say this. Reaching up, she touched his cheek. Gently wrapping his hand around hers, he brought their hands to his chest.

After a few more moments of silence, she responded. “Don’t forget, it was my doing too. I pushed you, I mouthed off, I taunted you.” Raising her head, she turned to look at him. “Don’t you see? I had to make sure you dealt every card you had in your hand. It had become the only way I could have any credibility with you or my team. We were in that POW camp because my guys wouldn’t follow my orders. How could I be an effective leader if they thought I was soft?”

Jack absorbed her statement. Until now he had assumed he was in full control of that interrogation.

She took a long breath. “You asked me that day whether I thought you should go easy on women. I said no. I needed you to do your worst. If you had refused to interrogate me, if you had behaved kindly toward me, it would have been a sign of disrespect.” She met his eyes again. “You gave me a chance to find out how much I could take, to prove how strong I could be.” She paused. “I won’t thank you for the beating but I recognize the opportunity that came along with it.”

Returning her head to his shoulder, she allowed a few moments for her words to sink in. Then her mouth twisted mischievously. “As I recall, I hurt you too, Jack. And at the time I did take some satisfaction from it. I hope you don’t take that personally.” Raised her head, she caught his eye again. “Have you considered wearing a steel codpiece when I’m around?”

For a moment Jack was stunned into silence. Then he exploded, laughing until tears came to his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so surprised by anyone. He shook his head in wonder. “Perhaps I should, Lieutenant. Perhaps I should. I’ll review my options.” He continued to chuckle at the thought.

Jordan was grinning too. She wasn’t ignoring that brief flashback. She’d already made a mental note to talk with the base psychologist about post-traumatic stress disorder when she had her routine psych check on Monday. She just wasn’t ready to dive into it with Jack. She didn’t think he would deliberately betray her. But if he helpfully dropped a hint about PTSD to Sehloff, she could find herself fighting that much harder for respect from her new captain. She was glad to move the conversation along. Besides, there was something else she wanted from the master chief.

“So Jack,” she said, “we’ve strayed from our path here. As I recall, you were thinking about kissing me. Then you made the mistake of bringing up our sordid history.” She touched her tongue to her parted lips. “Can we get back to business?”

Jack didn’t say a word. He gazed at Jordan with the barest hint of a smile. With his left hand he traced a feathery line from her temple down to her chin, while his right hand cradled the back of her head. He bent his head and slowly laid a trail of tender kisses along her jaw and down her neck. When his mouth finally returned to meet her lips, she responded eagerly. All of the desire they shared was channeled into a hungry meeting of lips and tongue, gradually slowing to a series of soft, wet kisses.

Jordan was the first to break. She purred contentedly. “Mmm. That’s more like it.”

Jack planted one last kiss on her nose. “I do have one more question,” he said, smiling. “I want to know whether fraternizing was part of your original mentor plan.”

She laughed, making a face at him. “In the plan? No. But I’d be lying if I said that the idea hadn’t occurred to me. You are an attractive man, John James Urgayle. Just impossible to read or predict. Intriguing. Mesmerizing.” She smiled and kissed him again. “What about you? Is this why you invited me here for dinner last night instead of meeting someplace safer?” She grinned mischievously.

“To be honest,” Jack admitted, “I’d already bought the chicken and was too stubborn to change my plans. I didn’t know what you were after, and didn’t want to make any assumptions.” He paused, adding soberly, “I still don’t. Kissing is one thing, but a relationship is another. SEALs don’t always make the best partners.”

Jordan heard old wounds in his voice. “So what are the odds, Jack?”

He looked at her. “I don’t know exactly, but from what I’ve observed I’m sure it’s less than the 40% that make it through CRT training.”

She thought a moment, and replied with a mischievous twist. “I suppose no one’s tracked stats on intimate relationships between operators.” She stressed the word “intimate” by lightly caressing his jaw.

Jack choked. “Not much data there.” Trying to glare at her, he found it increasingly difficult to tap into his usual curmudgeonly self. Still, there was a serious side to this discussion. “I don’t make a habit of worrying about what people do in their own bedrooms, but any relationship within a team could be deadly.”

Jordan nodded. “Agreed. So if we take this any further we lose our ability to work on the same team.” Impishly she added, “What’s worse, I won’t be able to take any more of your training courses.”

She paused, the smile gone. “Same team or no, Jack, the Navy is going to want a say in this. Fraternization policy gives the C.O. some latitude for a situation like ours. For you he would likely look the other way. But they would love to find a way to get rid of me.” She looked at him with a wry grin. “Do you think they’d notice the inconsistency in charging me with same-sex fraternization one month and becoming involved with you the next?”

He smiled but answered in a serious vein. “Yeah, that would put Salem in an interesting position. He and I get along pretty well, and on his own he might cut me some slack. But if he could score some points with the brass… hard to tell where he’d land.”

Jack’s voice softened. He rested his hand against her cheek. “Regulations aside, Jordan, and regardless of whether we take this any further, our getting to know each other has altered our working future. I would already find it difficult to work closely with you in a dangerous situation. It’s not a lack of respect. In fact, the better I know you, the more confidence I have in your ability to take care of yourself.” He stroked her short hair. “But at the same time I know how painful it would be for me to see you getting hurt.” He shook his head. “My feelings for you could be a fatal weakness.”

She drew his head toward hers and lightly kissed him again. “We’ve already crossed at least one line, haven’t we?” She stopped and considered their situation. “I know my presence complicated your job. And now it seems we’re trying to make the rest of our lives more complicated too.” She looked at him. “Do you wish you’d never met me?”

Jack shook his head. “If you’d asked me that five or six weeks ago I probably would have said yes. But you’ve been good for me, Jordan. My world’s a lot bigger because I met you.” He grinned. “Yes, more complicated too. But I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad too.” She ran a soft finger along his jaw, realizing how much she’d like to sink into his mouth again and not come up for a long time. If either she or Jack let their hands travel much below shoulder level, it would be hard to stop. “We have a lot to think about. I should get back to the motel before I get too comfortable here.”

Jack nodded reluctantly. As with her, his desire was warring with his discipline, and the discipline was feeling ragged. “If that’s what you want,” he replied, his voice husky. “But you’re welcome to stay.”

Jordan summoned her resolve. “I’d like to, Jack. But I can’t risk my career. We need to think this through.”

With a sigh, he agreed. “Yeah, I’m afraid my brain isn’t getting enough blood right now to be at its most effective.” He smiled at her, a devilish gleam in his eyes. “Let’s spend some time talking it through together. I have Saturday and Sunday free. Come away with me for the weekend.” He paused to check the details in his mind. “I’ll need to make a few calls in the morning, but I have an idea how we can get past the Navy’s radar and relax for a couple of days.”

She smiled. “I trust your organizational skills, Master Chief. The weekend is yours.”

Somehow they found the discipline needed to tear themselves off the couch and return Jordan to her motel room. With another goodnight kiss at her doorstep and a promise to call her in the morning, Jack headed back to his noticeably emptier home.